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The Caribbean in World History

Dr Hank Gonzalez

From the colonial slave plantations to the commercialized hedonism of the contemporary tourist industry, the modern Caribbean has been characterized by stark and ever-changing forms of social inequality and economic exploitation.  This course traces the development of Caribbean societies from the era of the Spanish conquest through the Haitian Revolution and the origins of Caribbean nationalism up to the present.  Over these five centuries, the region’s former plantation colonies went from being an important economic engine of the early modern Atlantic economy to a peripheral, post-colonial region characterized by poverty, unemployment, tourism, international migration and drug trafficking.  This course pays special attention to plantation slavery, slave emancipation and the comparative regional history of post-emancipation economic and political conflict.   The course goes on to cover the rise of U.S. hegemony in the Caribbean basin, the development of Caribbean nationalism, the Cuban Revolution, and the rise of neoliberalism.  From Cuba’s Castroist dictatorship, to Haiti’s neoliberal “failed-state,” to the colonial holdovers of Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe and Martinique, Caribbean societies have followed very different trajectories notwithstanding their shared histories of colonization, slavery and sugar.  Colonization and the forced migration of the slave trade brought together African, European, North American and Asian cultural elements, which have given birth to novel religious, artistic, and musical forms.  Some of these such as Vodou, Santería, Rastafarianism, Salsa, Reggae, and Carnaval have become well known worldwide.  This term we will examine Caribbean history with specific attention to the region’s five largest societies: Cuba, Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.  


Teaching consists of seminar discussion classes, held once per week during Michaelmas Term.  Students are invited to do the core reading prior to each class.  I recognize that in lockdown times, access to readings might be challenging, students are invited to try to use any and all means to resourcefully obtain access to readings.  I will do my best to share and post electronic copies of readings when I have them.   The further reading is there for students who take a particular interest in a specific topic and wish to gain a broader understanding of the debates.

Recommended Films (Many available for free online):

  •  “Burn!” 1969
  • “Toussaint Louverture” 2012
  • “Rockers” 1978
  • “Égalité for All: Toussaint Louverture and the Haitian Revolution” 2009
  • “Heading South” 2005
  • “The Last Supper” 1976
  • “Una Noche” 2012

As this is a module borrowed from History, there is a limit on the number of CLAS students who may take it. If you have a particular interest in this module, you should let the MPhil Director know your reasons for wishing to take it, and priority may be given to those for whom it would be central to their dissertation topic.

Teaching Schedule - 11am-1pm, in Room 9, Faculty of History, West Road - first class on 11 October 2023 (8 classes)

Key issues and texts